Cell phones arent the only devices that might cause interference in hospitalsusing radio-frequency identification technology in patient settings could also lead to unintended medical harm, industry leaders say.
Electromagnetic fields generated by RFID devicestouted as a patient-safety technique to keep track of supplies, medical tests and samples, and peoplecould cause medical equipment to malfunction, according to a recent study of medical devices in Amsterdam published in the June 25 Journal of the American Medical Association. Hospitals should ensure they have policies established to mitigate that potential patient harm, said John Halamka, a physician and chief information officer at CareGroup Health System, Boston, and the Harvard Medical School. This is a problem, absolutely, Halamka said.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, part of the CareGroup system, uses low-power, active RFID transmitters to track locations of supplies in the 585-bed hospital and does not allow any device generating electromagnetic fields to be used closer than 3 feet from a patient, Halamka said.
RFID has been slow to catch on in the U.S. healthcare industry; hospitals still favor cheaper bar-coding options for tracking supply chains, but they should still pay attention to studies of electromagnetic interference of any medical device, Halamka said.
The controlled, nonclinical study included random tests of two types of RFID: passive and active systems. Passive RFID tags do not have their own internal power and must be activated by the electromagnetic field generated by the reader device. Active systems include battery-powered tags that do not require activation by the readers electromagnetic field.
Researchers found electromagnetic interference from RFID systems led to incidentsdefined as having an unintended change in equipment functionin 34, or 28%, out of 123 tests of 41 different medical devices.